Dukes County Commission Meeting Minutes
Wednesday, January 28th, 2009
County Administration Building
Call to Order
Chairman Leslie Leland called the County Commissioner’s meeting to order at 5:10 p.m. Commissioners Tristan Israel, John Alley, Leonard Jason, Jr., Melinda Loberg, Thomas Hallahan and Carlene Gatting were present.
Also in attendance were County Manager Russell Smith, Executive Assistant Martina Thornton, County Treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders, Marc Hanover (SSA representative), Algonquin J. Calhoon and Joanie Ames of MVTV.
The approval of minutes from December 17th was deferred to the next meeting.
Election of Chair and Vice-Chair
Les read a Section II.A.2. (g) of the Administrative Code that states that “ The Commission shall select, at its organizational meeting each January, one of its members to serve as chair and one to serve as vice-chair for the year. The chair shall preside over Commission meetings except in his or her absence the vice-chair shall preside.” Les also reminded the Commissioners that back on January 31, 2007 the Commission voted that the Vice-Chair becomes Chair and that the vice-Chair will be elected annually. This would not work this year because the Vice-Chair from last year did not run for re-election.
Les/John moved to rescind the motion adopted on January 31, 2007 that the Vice–Chair becomes Chair and the Vice-Chair is voted annually. So voted. All in favor.
Carlene said that the democratic process to vote the Chair and Vice-Chair annually works fine. She believes that it is a good idea to have a new person as Chair each year but if there are circumstances that would call for an experienced person to do it for a 2nd year, they should have the option, therefore she is in favor of a 2-year term limit for the Chair. Tristan said that the change to a 2-year term for the Commissioners changed his position and he is for the election of Chair and Vice-Chair every year and 2 consecutive terms limit to serve as Chair. Les said that the Administrative Code calls for elections every year and there is always an option to either vote for the same person or for someone new. Tom said that it seams awkward to do the revision to the Administrative Code a couple of minutes before the vote and
it would seem more appropriate to have the election as it is written in the Administrative Code and then revise the rules for the next elections. Les said that Tristan and Carlene asked for this policy to be revised back in 2007 but it has never been done. Tristan said he thinks there should be limits to serve as Chair. The limit would make it more democratic and open. John said that since we rescinded the action of January 2007 we now fall into the Administrative Code and after the change to 2-year term for the Commissioners it makes even more sense to have chair and vice-chair election each year. If the Board wants to elect the same person for a second year that is okay. Carlene asked if the decision in 2007 was based on some historic experience that would lead to need to limit the chair’s term. Les said that there was a discussion but never a motion about the term for the Chair.
Tristan/John moved to elect the Chair and Vice-Chair every year with limit to 2 consecutive years to serve as Chairman.
Discussion: Lenny said that he would like the Chair to rotate every year, it is a good experience for everyone. Melinda supported the 2-year term limitation for the Chair also. So voted. In favor: Tristan, Lenny, Melinda and Carlene. Opposed: John, Tom and Les. The motion passed (4-3-0).
Les asked for motions to nominate the Chair.
Carlene/John moved to nominate Lenny Jason. Melinda/Tristan moved to nominate Les Leland.
Nominations closed. Election:
Carlene – Lenny
Melinda – Les
Lenny – Lenny
Tom – Lenny
Tristan – Les
Les – Les
Lenny Jason was elected as Chair.
Melinda/Carlene moved to make the vote unanimous. So voted. All in favor.
Lenny thanked all the Commissioners for the support and Les for his service as a Chair. He also said that he would be a candidate for a Chair only for one year.
John/Melinda nominated Carlene Gatting as Vice – Chair. Nominations closed. So voted. All in favor. I thought Lenny nominated Carlene. Check with him.
Marc Hanover - SSA Report
The Washington State Ferry was funded and has started to use our plans for the Island Home to build their new ferry, except theirs is 20 feet longer and will not have ??doors. The check for $392,924 is in the mail for using our plans. There will be two more opportunities for the SSA to profit by allowing companies to use our plans if this one is successful and possibly one more. Washington State Ferry had two bidders for building the boat and it came out to $65 million for one boat. We paid $32 million 3 years ago!
In November Marc went to a seminar about alternative fuels for the SSA boats. The most interesting presentation was from a group from Norway. They are using LNG (liquefied natural gas), which is a clean burning solution. They have 7 ships running on it and no issues. If we used LNG we would only have to re-fuel every 6 days (instead of every day), there is no exhaust. It would come from tankers over the road same as the fuel we use now. Unfortunately there is no way to retrofit right now. The cost of a new ship would be about 35% more but the pay back is about 3 years. Marc hopes that if SSA decides to build a new boat they would look into the LNG technology.
Fuel pricing – the SSA saved about 30,000gallons last year by slowing down the boats and consolidating trips. They budgeted $3.48/gal for this year. They do not use the barrel price anymore; they use the Providence rack rate for home heating fuel. SSA is now paying $1.80/gal, so it is benefiting enormously from the lower prices. SSA also got insurance for the price with a guaranteed maximum price of $3.11/gal. They will not have to pay higher than that. It is an 18 month policy and the premium right now is 4 cents/gal and it can get up to 15cents/gal as it gets closer to the $3.11/gal price. The cost of the insurance will be about $400,000 for the 18 months, which is less then 5% of the fuel budget.
At the end of the year Martha's Vineyard run was up about 1.6%; Nantucket was down 3%; passengers, vehicles and high speed to Nantucket was down 10%. The Hy-line was down
23,000 passengers on the Oak Bluffs route. SSA approved a change in Hy-Line’s schedule to cut 2 boats in the off-season and one in season from Hyannis to Oak Bluffs. The New Bedford Fast Ferry was down 24,000 people last year. Carlene commented that it is pricy. Marc said that they have license to operate for 2 more years but he was surprised they did not ask the Board to allow them to discontinue the service. They cut back substantially from their initial schedule. Net operating income for this year is about $1.4 million (with the rate increase and the income from the Washington State Ferry), which is substantially less than the budgeted $4 million.
Costal Zone Management (EPA) passed a new law about no dumping of waste into the ocean, which will be in place within 2- 3 years. The SSA has always processed the waste but we cannot process the nitrates. It would be a huge expense to retrofit to take on fresh water (instead of using sea water), holding the gray water and pump it out on the shore – it will cost $1 million to retrofit one boat and $0.5 million for the facility on the shore. Some boats will be banned from use on the water all together (if rusty, etc.).
Tom asked where the processing facility would be. Marc said that nobody wants it. We cannot put the salt water into the plants it would kill the bugs. It would be about 10,000gal every day in the season. Tristan said that it will be an issue, because Tisbury Waste Water Plant is about 10,000gal from its 80% of full capacity, at which point they would have to expand the plant. 10,000gal are reserved for businesses that would hook up to it in the future and they have proposals for 4,000-5,000 gallons on the table right now. Melinda added that the plant has leaching limitations also that are not negotiable. Les said it would also be added expense for the fresh water.
Empty capacity on the boat at mid-day – Marc suggested to the SSA board to generate extra revenue by offering half-price rates to the islanders on “empty” boats, open the discounted reservations at noon the day before when they have a good idea how full the boat is and may be make half of the space available at discount. Management is working on structuring it, but they are concerned about confusion, stand-bys etc. Marc would like to see the program begin this year, but they think it will not be done until next year. Tristan commented that couple of years ago the price was $30, now it is $57.
R.M.Packer Co. brings one barge over with rental cars in the spring and back in the fall. Marc does not think it is a big deal but it violates the enabling act of the SSA. Mr. Packer was repeatedly asked to stop, but he refuses to. The SSA has taken him to court, has offered him a license – there is no fee for the license, but the license would state that he cannot carry cars. Every car he brings is money taken from the SSA to offset the price for our cars. It is one barge, but what if someone else would start doing it.
Shenandoah – Marc met with Tisbury Harbor Master Jay Wilbur and Morgan Douglas, they said they moved the mooring already 15 feet, but the SSA is asking them to move it 150 feet. They are willing to move it another 50’ to a total of 65’ away from the channel. When the wind blows from SSE (about 5-7 times a year) the second boat slot is blocked. We had 2 boats canceled because of it last year. It is safety issue, the Coast Guard got involved. Marc presented the 65’ offer to the management; they talked to several captains, who felt it would be sufficient. But when it came to present the 65’ to the Army Corps of Engineers – it was not. SSA is drafting a letter to the Douglas family saying they would accept the 65’. Tisbury wants the two parties to work it out. They don’t
want to lose the boats from the harbor, as it is a great business asset. Marc says that the SSA does not want the boats to leave the harbor either. It is only a safety issue that needs to be worked out.
Tom pointed out that the customer service of the SSA is much better than in previous years. Marc said that staff was sent to Customer Relations Seminars per management request as they do follow up on complaints and he is happy to hear compliments about it. John said that if Marc needs support for the 65’ proposal from the Board to let them know.
Russell thanked Les Leland for his support at the beginning of his acting as a County Manager.
First proposal for FY2010 budget
Noreen presented the first proposal for the FY2010 budget, which is $87,680 out of balance. She would like the Commissioners to look at it and come up with suggestions how to balance it.
Budgeted income: increase of $20,212.22 in the assessment (2.5%), license plates and parking clerk incomes are holding steady, decrease in deeds excise tax by $20,000 and in Registry of Deeds fees by $66,000, courthouse income is up by $9,000 (due to 81% of the $73,000 expense last year), alarm fees are budgeted at $125,000 (were actually $132,000 last year), $10,159 more is coming for the VHCAP from the towns, $2,157 decrease in money back for the retiree health and live insurance funds, $5000 of new revenue from the Trustees of Reservations ( we received $3500 last year), County Treasurer has $4000 increase in interest revenue and $5000 in grant administration fees from YTF grant, Rodent Control is keeping revenue at $20,000 but the $6,514.85 is the increase from the towns.
On the expense side: we don’t have to borrow the $30,000 for the courthouse roof repair and interest on that was $7,500, county commissioners budget is down by $31,120, associate commissioners stays the same, parking clerk had $366.07 increase in salary, courthouse increase of $7647.33 is increase in building insurance, administration building is down about $3000, miscellaneous is up by $2,355, which includes the $12,000 in charges for Cape & Island EMS we pay for all the towns, economic development is how we pay for the advertising for the Cape & Island License Plates, health council expense of $4000 is just an estimate, they did not spend anything so far this year, increase in health insurance by $14,441 – it reflects all the departments and it may go down as the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group
did not set its rates up yet, but we are expecting there will be about 7-9% increase depending on a plan and we budgeted here about 10%; natural resources expense is what we are required to do as part of the $30,000 grant; Emergency Management decrease in expenses is based on how the expenses were reduced this year. County Treasurer – step increases and little bit of health insurance. Rodent control– same thing. Veterans agent - $1,175 increase. Registry of Deeds $7,447 increase and Sheriff’s Department - $12,542 increase are the maintenance of effort and we have no choice.
Tristan asked what our unreserved funds are now after we used $90,000 of it to balance the FY09 budget. Noreen said the funds are $117,000 but we were told by the auditors not to use it for FY2010.
Tristan said that we should have a sub-committee working on the budget. Tom/Carlene moved to create a finance sub-committee. So voted. All in favor. Lenny asked for 3 volunteers to serve on the finance committee: Tristan, Les and John volunteered. Noreen would be the 4th member.
Report on current budget FY2009
Noreen informed the Commissioners that the Registry revenues are still 15% down, parking fees are little ahead, Cape & Island license plates are holding (that excludes the special payment we received). Integrated Pest Management has only 19% left to collect so he will have revenue over the budgeted amount. Alarm fees don’t come until spring, when it is billed. The deeds’ excise tax is about 12% off. We asked the Department heads to put in writing how they will reduce the current budget by 10-15%. Lenny asked to have a report from the Finance Committee by next meeting about were we are with the revenue and expense.
Tom asked what accounting program does the Treasurer use. Noreen said it is called UNIFUND from Nashua, NH.
Carlene said that at one point we will need to look at positions and hours worked and we asked the state couple of months ago for a functionality audit and she wanted to know where we are with that. Noreen said that it is in the works and they should be here in September. Carlene said she thought it would be in January.
John asked if Noreen had any projections about how the change of the health insurance split would affect the budget. Lenny said that the sub-committee is working on that and Melinda will have a report about it. Noreen said that she told to the committee that they could reduce cost by eliminating the more expensive plans or under Chapter 32B they could set different splits for different plans as long as it is the same for all the employees and does not go below 50%.
Sheriffs’ legislation update
Noreen handed out a print out from Norfolk County, which is a quick overview of version number 9 of the Sheriff’s Takeover Legislation. On the 2nd page were the Articles that were filed by the subcommittee of the County Commissioners Association and on the 3rd page was a letter asking the Commissioners to support the filed bills. The Governor shall be filing his version of the takeover legislation sometime this week.
Russell asked if the 3 pieces of legislation filed are to balance the cost to the County. Noreen said that they should increase revenue to the State and the County. We would see relief in some of the things that we pay now and if the Sheriff leaves, we would be left with the county. This gives more money to the State to support the Sheriff as a line item and we would not be crunched by the 2.5% increase limitation. We would still have to pay the maintenance of effort. Under the Sheriff’s bill we would continue to assess the towns for the Sheriff’s portion and use it to pay the unfunded pension liability of the Sheriff’s retirees. It does not talk about the unfunded pension liability of the current employees and about the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). The Sheriff said that the
Administration and Finance (A&F) does not want to deal with the OPEB right now. The Sheriff is trying to get something in writing from the A&F’s attorney about what will happen with the maintenance of effort amount after the pension liability is paid off. We would still assess the same amount to the towns but would have to turn it over to the State.
Tristan said that the Sheriffs’ bill will directly impact the towns if passed as proposed and he would like to have discussion with our Sheriff about it. Tom asked if all 14 Sheriffs’ departments in the State would be funded and supported through the State with exception of the significant liability for pensions and benefits for the retirees and if this is a separate legislation or addendum to the Governor’s budget. Russell said he thinks it would be a separate legislation. Noreen said that the liabilities of the 7 Sheriffs in the abolished counties are already State liabilities, but the State charges back to the towns in these counties on their cherry sheets portion of those liabilities.
The first draft of this legislation proposed to reduce our assessment to the towns by the Sheriff’s maintenance of effort amount of $500,000 so we would assess the towns only about $300,000 and the liabilities that the State would take over would be charged against the towns cherry sheets. If they did it that way, they would pay off the liabilities and be done with it, if they do it the way they propose now, they would continue to assess the towns and have a stream of income. Russell said that the 7 Sheriffs would be funded as a line item on state budget and they find that advantageous, as they would not have to go back to the legislature for supplemental budget, as they had to do over and over before. John suggested the Commissioners read the information and by the next meeting we will know what action the Governor
We ordered the software. The Sheriff’s grant will pay for the first half year of the contract. Martha's Vineyard Public Safety Committee met and discussed how the software will be distributed. They had to prioritize – start with be the public safety departments, then the assessors, then the water departments and sewer departments.
Legislation – room tax
We have good language for the 2% room tax legislation and it was filed. The system to collect and administer the tax already exists within the State.
Russell reported that Tristan asked to start a fisheries coalition to represent fishermen on the island. Different state and federal laws govern different species and the island fishermen agree with different counsels based on what group they represent. We are trying to invite all the groups to work together on the legal issues that are coming up. There would be no membership fees; the group would be open to all fishermen. Russell scheduled a meeting at 5pm on February 4th at the Dukes County Administration Building and had a great response so far. Tristan asked if we are advertising the meeting. Russell said he only wants a core group of fishermen to discuss if they want to create such a group at all. If they come up with recommendations, then we could reserve a bigger room and advertise for the meeting.
Tristan said he would attend. Lenny said he would come also. Tristan suggested posting the meeting. Russell said that as long as it is not a sub-committee or a meeting of commissioners discussing things that the Commission has purview over, it does not have to be posted.
Letter of support for grant application for housing rehabilitation for 5 island towns
Les said that the Commissioners were asked by Bailey Boyd Associates to write a letter of support for the housing rehabilitation grants that 5 island towns are applying for. We did that in the past. With the funding from the state this program provides deferred payment for forgivable loans to make critical repairs to owner-occupied homes and year-round rentals on the Vineyard. They have already received more than 160 applications from interested Vineyard residents. Lenny asked who is the lead town. Les said the letter does not say that.
Melinda/John moved to send letter of support. Discussion: Tom asked where does the letter go. Les said that it would be addressed to Tina Brooks, the Undersecretary at MA Department of Housing and Community Development, but the letter will be sent to the Bailey Boyd Associates to include with the grant application. All in favor.
Discussion about new Associate Commissioners positions
Lenny asked the Commissioners to consider creating an Associate Commissioner for Finance and an Associate Commissioner of Agricultural. He would like to get more people involved in County Government and to see if there is some type of service that would cost the taxpayers nothing and provide some enlightement to the regional budgets etc. Lenny asked the Commissioners for permission to speak to the All- Island Finance Committee. The Martha's Vineyard Commission is working on an Agricultural Commission. Carlene asked what the Associate Commissioner for Finance would do. Lenny said he would like to see a body that reviews all the regional budgets so they can better inform their voters about where their money is going and how it’s being spent and may be there might be some cost savings that might be achieved.
Carlene asked if this is something that the All Island FinCom does. Lenny said he does not know what the All Island FinCom does, but he would like the Associate Commissioner to look into it. Carlene said she knows they look at the MV Commission’s budget but they do not look at the County’s budget. Lenny said they don’t look at the SSA or VTA budgets either. Some of these are just assessments but it would be nice to know where the money is going and how it is being used.
Tristan said that the All Island FinCom sent letter to all the towns regarding their concern about the COLA. He thinks it would be of value even if the Associate Commissioner for Finance would be only a liaison appointed to the All Island FinCom. Melinda said she attended some of their meetings and they want to look at regional bodies and try to better understanding them and coordinate the towns response to them, including the schools’ budgets. She is also supporting the idea of having such Associate Commissioner.
Lenny said he would like to follow up on the Charter Commission’s study regarding underutilization of the County Treasurer. He would like to approach one of the regional bodies to see if we could provide accounting services for them. We cannot give them money, but perhaps we could give them service. Carlene said it is an excellent idea.
Carlene said that Martina spoke with someone at the State and was told that the Edgartown Courthouse by virtue of being part of the Edgartown Village Historic District is therefore on the National Register of Historic Places on state and federal level, which seems to be contrary to what the former County Manager Carol Borer found – that the building needs to be individually listed. Carlene said that we should get the Courthouse listed individually anyway if this is the way we can potentially get any grants and also have a discussion with Community Preservation Act (CPA) committees to see if we could get funding there. Martina looked into state funds availability and there were grants for historic buildings but only to the municipalities or non-profits, not to the County.
Tristan suggested talking to people at the Tisbury Waterworks that were working on the Tashmoo Spring building committee. The town just received a letter that the building was placed on the National Historic Register so they did all the work very recently (Aase Johnes, Loraine Wealth (Pringle)). Tristan also suggested to put together a group of private citizens like “Friends of the Courthouse” consisting of people who care about the Courthouse, are good at writing grants, raising money etc. who would do the work to save the Courthouse. Lenny said that we should also go to MV Commission that they had a historical plan and they could help to go through the registration process. Les said that we should ask for the CPA funds for specific project and we should do it soon as the state matching funds will be
disappearing in next couple of years. Melinda said that the Eastville Beach Committee, which is a County Committee, did apply for CPA funds from Oak Bluffs and Tisbury.
Health Benefits sub-committee report
Melinda reported that they had their first organizational meeting today. Lenny, Melinda, Tom, Russell, Noreen and Sean Flynn were present. She distributed the Meeting Minutes. They identified the scope of the decisions they have to make and what they need to know and what they don’t know yet. It is complicated and it has many contingency opportunities. They tried to identify who are the people that it affects, what negotiations would have to take place and what savings it would generate with a particular course of action. They all agreed that the goal is to go to the 75/25 split in payment for health insurance for all county employees. Other possibility is to eliminate the plans that are more expensive but don’t provide additional benefits to the employees. They need more info about how many people it would
affect and what money it would save before they can recommend any action. Tristan asked why there would be no savings at the Airport. Melinda said it is because the change would only be within the airport’s budget. Tom added that the report only reflects the direct savings to the County as the health insurance is paid from each department’s budget and so the savings would be in the departments’ budgets, not the County’s. Tristan said that in the long term, if the Airport revenues go down, it would still affect the County, as we would have to make up the difference. The next sub-committee meeting is scheduled and they hope to have all the information needed.
Carlene said that Tad Crawford made a presentation when the State Representatives were here on behalf of the Conservation Society requesting legislation that some of the royalties associated with the Cape Wind Project would be directed to the Cape and Islands. He made similar presentation at the Martha's Vineyard Commission and they voted unanimously to support the legislation. Carlene would like the County Commissioners to support the legislation also. There are time constraints. Russell added that the mechanism for the State to take in money from the Cape Wind Project and the financial auditing, etc. does not exist. That means that the legislation would not only be about giving some of the royalties back to the Cape & Islands community but also about the financial mechanisms of it. Melinda asked if this is
something that could be addressed at the meeting with Congressman Delahunt when he is here. Russell said that we are helping coordinate the meeting, which is on January 29th at 11am at the VTA. Tristan said that it would also have to be determined what would the money be used for (environmental, fishing, etc.). There was a discussion about limiting it to energy and Tristan does not support that limitation. Carlene said that at this point there would be no limitation on the use of the money; we just want to get the request for legislation going and the determination can be done later. There are no royalties like this being generating in Massachusetts, but there are states like Louisiana where it already exists. Tristan said that at the All Island Selectmen’s meeting they mentioned that they get about 26% in royalties.
Carlene moved to write a letter to our representatives to support proposal for legislation that would ask for a percentage of the royalties from the Cape Wind Project to go to a Cape & Islands fund that would be created. Lenny asked if the money would be held in escrow. Carlene said that those details are yet to be worked out. Lenny said that it would be nice to have a fund already in place; it would help to mitigate it. Lenny asked if all the Commissioners agree with the general concept. All the Commissioners agreed. Lenny directed the County Manager to find the letter the Martha's Vineyard Commissioners have written and follow up with our response.
Schedule of meetings for the 2009 calendar year was presented. Tristan said he would not attend the March 11th meeting. Russell said he would not be here for the Feb. 25th. Martina pointed out that there are two mandatory meetings for the year. One is the 3rd Wednesday in May and so we will meet the 1st and 3rd Wednesday in May instead of the usual 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month. The second mandatory meetings falls on November 11th, which is Veterans’ Day this year. As this is a holiday the County offices will be closed. Lenny asked Martina to call the Secretary of State to find out if we still need to meet on holiday.
John/Tristan moved to adjourn the meeting at 6:47 p.m.
Respectfully Submitted by:
JOSEPH E. SOLLITTO JR., Clerk of the Courts